Yay! It's Crepe Murder Season!

Don’t be the last on your street to commit a crime against nature.

Oh, boy, is Grumpy excited! After weeks of unseasonably cold weather that culminated in the Texas disaster, people are out and about again! And what's the first thing many do celebrate the balmy, sunny weather? You guessed it – cut down their crepe myrtles into big, thick stumps, leaving piles of amputated limbs looking like the carcasses of wildebeests after a lion kill.

As with Mardi Gras, Ground Hog Day, and standing in line for four days at the liquor store awaiting the next Pappy Van Winkle release, my neighbors regard this annual pruning as a rite of spring. It's not a question of if they'll do it, but when. One day, you'll see a majestic, mature crepe myrtle flaunting smooth trunks of arboreal beauty. The next morning, four-foot stumps. "Oh, rapture!" they say upon completing the destruction. "Now our crepe myrtles look like everyone else's!"

Crepe Murder 2021
Steve Bender

But Why?
If you've faithfully followed Grumpy's musings and lessons for lo, these many years ("if" being a totally superfluous word, I know), you are aware that I have always campaigned against the practice I call Crepe Murder. It ruins the natural form of the tree. It has no effect on blooming. And it causes the tree to sprout a bevy of long, thin shoots too spindly to hold up the heavy flower clusters that follow.

I used to hold a Crepe Murder Contest each spring to cite the worst examples of the craft around the South and publicly humiliate the perpetrators. Readers loved it – well, except for those cited – and filled my mailbox with entries.

Sadly, however, I no longer hold this contest, as it gradually became clear that I was spinning my wheels. No matter how loudly I shouted, no matter how many crimes I panned, crepe murder became epidemic.

It gives me great pain to reveal that Grumpy's own neighborhood has become Crepe Murder Central. Murdered myrtles greatly outnumber spared ones. One reason is that our city makes it so easy. You just pile the debris by the side of the street and a truck with a giant claw picks it all up and takes it away. For free.

Restoring the Victim
Not all crepe murderers are evil people. Some don't know any better. Others hired a landscape service to do "a little light trimming." Is there anything you can do to mitigate the damage of crepe murder and eventually enjoy a lovely tree again? Yes. Follow these steps.

  1. As I said, each decapitated trunk or main limb will sprout a herd of shoots in spring. Select one or two that are growing up and out and retain them. Prune off all others. Remove any other shoots that sprout near them later that year. These saved shoots will become the new trunks and main limbs.
  2. As these new shoots grow, remove any side branches that grow from them for the first two years.
  3. By year three, your crepe myrtle will be well on the way to reclaiming its former glory.
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